It’s been more than 24 hours since Valverde did his latest hack job on a brilliant outing by a starting pitcher. And most of Michigan is still pretty furious. I immediately declared myself part of the “Anyone But Valverde” camp, and I stick by that. But now, someone has to figure out the “Anyone” part. The one thing we do know (or hope) is that the Tigers realize they can’t afford to use Papa Grande in the ninth inning ever again. Plenty of articles, blogs, tweets, and Facebook posts have given their opinions, so I might as well throw my two cents in. Here are the five in-house choices, in order from least objectionable to most heinous:
1. Joaquin Benoit: The good news is he’s here, he’s pitching well, and he has closing experience. The bad news is he has a history of bouts with longballitis. Then there’s the fact that he’d be vacating the 8th inning slot.
2. Drew Smyly: He’s young, versatile, pitching well, and has a much better repertoire than the usual closer. The problem with him is similar to the problem with Benoit: vacating the role he currently holds. Not to mention the fact that it could delay and/or harm his development as a closer (although a similar move didn’t seem to hurt Chris Sale). If Benoit gets the nod as closer, Smyly could be be the 7th-8th inning guy.
3. Bruce Rondon: He’s dominating AAA hitters, but he’s still having control issues. the best course, if they bring him up, may be to put him in the 7th-8th inning roles and let him work his way into the closer role, with Benoit or Smyly keeping the spot warm for him.
4. Putkonen/Downs: Neither is the prototypical closer, but both have been effective in long-relief stints at times.
5. Phil Coke: Coke’s 2013 struggles, especially against right-handers, have been well-documented. He’s not the answer any more than Valverde was.
Of course, there’s always the chance that Dombrowski could trade for a closer, or another bullpen arm who would free up one of the above for the role.
My favorite trade targets would be San Diego’s Luke Gregerson or Washington’s Drew Storen. Neither of these is probably realistic. Washington has the depth to trade Storen, but why should they? They’d ask for a lot. Same with Gregerson. He’s young, cheap, and probably San Diego’s closer of the future after they trade Huston Street.
Street is probably available but would cost significant talent, and he’s not having a great year either. Plus, he’s currently hurt.
Jonathan Papelbon might be available, but he’s getting stupid money for the next three years. Of course that money could keep Philly from asking for top prospects (read: Castellanos or Garcia) for him. The other problem is I can’t stand him. But he’d be just what the Tiger bullpen needs.
Brian Wilson‘s name occasionally floats into the conversation, but no one is sure how healthy his arm is. Not to mention that he’s an attention-craving loon.
The other closers or possible-closers that the non-contenders may offer up would surely cost the cream of the farm system crop.
So we’re back to the question of who will close for the Tigers. The only answer anyone (except Leyland) is sure of is “Anyone but Valverde.”